Klein's Camp: Part 2

“Rules are made to be broken…”

The most exciting thing you’ll ever see with a camera in your hand…

The most exciting thing you’ll ever see with a camera in your hand…

“There’s a lion fighting with a buffalo!” cried our driver, holding his binoculars and looking round in my direction.

“Okay, let’s go!”

He tore off into the Serengeti, bouncing around like crazy as we headed towards the action - ignoring the park rules by going off-road! He was driving so fast that my bean bag flew up into the air. Thank goodness I was holding on to my cameras, or they both might’ve lost them both! I couldn’t see what was going on, but our driver kept up a running commentary until we eventually got close. He asked me where he should position the car, but it didn’t matter as we could plainly see a lion grabbing the haunches of a buffalo only 10 yards away! My heart racing, I immediately started taking pictures. I took so many, in fact, that my camera couldn’t cope and started to slow down! I had to stop every now and then to allow it to write the files to the memory card. I was with a couple of guests, Patrick and Yvonne, and I suggested to Yvonne that she take a video.

Thanks, Yvonne…!

For five or 10 minutes, the lion hung on with its claws and teeth as the buffalo desperately tried to escape. Eventually, two more male lions arrived to help out and managed to take down their prey, but the buffalo somehow managed to get to its feet again, and the struggle continued. We drove around a bit to get the best view until, finally, one more lion joined in, and the buffalo sank to the ground for the last time. One of the lions clamped his jaws around the animal’s neck and then its mouth to suffocate it, and all four began to feed on their kill. We were in the prime position, with the sun at our backs and all four lions lined up behind the carcase. What a sight!

Sadly, we couldn’t stay long as our driver was worried we’d be spotted by a park ranger, but that was definitely the highlight of my stay at Klein’s Camp. And it was all down to our driver and his ability to spot the action from all of 300 yards away…and break the rules! You’re not supposed to go off-road in the Serengeti National Park, and you run the risk of being fined or even banned from the park if you do, but rules are made to be broken - especially in Africa! I generally adopted a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy: I didn’t ask if we were breaking any rules, and I certainly didn’t tell any of the park rangers about it!

Seeing a kill is what it’s all about when it comes to wildlife photography. I realise some people might be a little squeamish about it, but there really is nothing to match the excitement. The guests and I were on a high after the lion kill, and we kept replaying it over and over in our minds and talking about it for the rest of the day. The only other time I saw a ‘proper’ kill from start to finish was in the Klein’s Camp concession. We were looking for cheetah all morning out towards the old airstrip, and we finally saw a pair of brothers walking across a broad, grassy plain. It was ideal cheetah country, and there were quite a few blue wildebeest for them to choose from. We drove along, trying to keep ahead of the cheetah but level with their prey to give us the best chance of spotting the action. I saw five cheetah kills in as many days at Kicheche Bush Camp last year, so I know just how fast the action can take place and how far they can run! In this case, there were a couple of false starts as one or other of the cheetah lay down in the shade of a tree, but one of the brothers was clearly in the lead and ready to hunt. Finally, he started trotting towards a group of wildebeest with his head down in that very typical way they have that shows they’re about to chase down their prey. He ran at full speed for about 100 yards as I took pictures until finally catching a wildebeest. He didn’t manage to take it down first time, though, and it took the help of his brother to wrestle the animal to the ground. We were a bit far behind by that stage, but I switched to my 800mm lens and managed to get a few shots.

One of the cheetah clamped his jaws around the wildebeest’s neck and suffocated him while the other lay next to him, holding it down with his paws. Once it was dead, they started feeding on the carcase, scanning the horizon every few seconds to check for other predators that might steal their prey. After a few minutes’ feasting on the carcase, one of the cheetah walked over and lay down in the shade of a tree, and the other dragged the kill over to him. They both continued eating greedily as one or two vultures arrived to join the party. This carried on for about half an hour, and I took pictures of the cheetah feeding and the vultures landing one after another. By the time we left, I counted 82 white-backed vultures standing in a neat line - just like they were waiting for the bus!

Apart from those kills, I had a few other good days in the bush. I remember following three cheetah on another day with a guest called Martina, and it was a pretty long wait for any action, but we finally got our reward when they climbed a tree and started posing for us.

Eventually, the cheetah jumped down from the tree, and I managed to capture him in the act…

On another occasion, I managed to find a spot where I could take shots of animals silhouetted against the sunset. Normally, that’s not possible at Klein’s due to the Kuka hills that run north-south between the concession and the Serengeti National Park, blocking the sunset in the west. However, there’s a little gully in one of the broad plains near the old airstrip that allowed me to capture this wildebeest against a gloriously fiery sky.

The other real highlights were leopard sightings. A guest called Martina wanted a few photography lessons while she was at Klein’s, and we went out on every game drive with a guide called Seleu, who managed to spot three leopards in as many days! One of them was even in the concession, which was a very rare event. I’d seen a leopard with Seleu in my first week at Klein’s, but that was the only other time I’d seen one. When our tracker Leboo spotted the animal sitting in a tree, Seleu got very excited - almost as excited as when he’d shouted, “Snake! Snake! Snake! Snake! Snake!” when a spitting cobra slither across the road! - and we were treated to a good half an hour of posing before it eventually climbed down and slunk off into a drainage gully. The second sighting was only a few yards away from the ranger post at the entrance to the park. Seleu saw a kill lying on the bank of the river, and he then managed to spot the leopard nearby. Unfortunately, it was very shy, and it was also very dark, so we only got off a few shots before it disappeared into the undergrowth. The third and final leopard was by far the best. We were on our way back from a long game drive in the Serengeti when Leboo spotted it sitting by the river on an open plain. We reversed to the nearest junction and took a different road that led right to the spot. By this stage, the animal had moved away from the river and sat down in the grass, but we still had an excellent view. The light was also excellent as it was getting towards the ‘golden hour’ just before sunset, and Martina and I were able to take some great portraits.

As you can see from the pictures I’ve chosen, going on safari is really all about the big cats: lion, leopard and cheetah. I didn’t see many leopard or cheetah at Klein’s, but the five male lion were a constant presence. When they arrived in November last year, they killed all the cubs they could find from the previous dominant males, and that forced all the lionesses into oestrus. My time here coincided with a frenzy of intercourse, and I must have seen more than 25 matings in the last two months. I also went down to Serengeti Under Canvas for a few days when there weren’t any guests at Klein’s, and I had some good sightings there, too.

When I finally left Klein’s Camp, I walked out of my door and stood on the porch, looking for one last time at the view up the valley towards Kenya. I had tears in my eyes. It’s been a great two months or so, and I hope to be back at some stage in the future. I’ve had some great sightings, taken some great pictures and met some great people, both among the staff and among the guests. I hope I’ve helped the guests learn more about photography. I’ve had some nice feedback on Tripadvisor, and one guest even started calling me ‘Master’ - i felt like Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid: “Lens cap on, lens cap off.” All in all, I have to thank Claire Evans at &Beyond and everyone else involved for giving me such a great opportunity and making my stay so enjoyable. Let’s hope it’s the start of a beautiful friendship!

 

Butcher's bill

1 x Nikon 1.25 teleconverter - the screws kept falling out, and the lug that located it in the mount eventually froze in place…

Species list:

Animals

African civet

African hare

African bush elephant

African wild cat

Banded mongoose

Bat-eared fox

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed/silver-backed jackal

Blue wildebeest

Bohor reedbuck

Bushbuck

Cape buffalo

Chameleon

Cheetah

Coke’s hartebeest

Common warthog

Common/golden jackal

Defassa waterbuck

Dung beetle

Dwarf mongoose

Eland

Grant’s gazelle

Green turtle

Hippopotamus

Impala

Kirk’s dik-dik

Klipspringer

Leopard

Leopard tortoise

Lesser bush baby

Lion

Little antelope

Masai giraffe

Millipede

Monitor lizard 

Mwanza flat-headed rock agama/Spider-Man agama

Nile crocodile

Olive baboon

Oribi

Plains zebra

Rock hyrax

Rock python

Scrub hare 

Serval

Slender mongoose

Spitting cobra

Spotted hyena

Steenbok

Terrapin

Thomson’s gazelle

Topi

Tree hyrax

Tree lizard

Vervet monkey

White-tailed mongoose

Wild dog/painted wolf

Birds

Abdim’s stork

African crowned eagle

African cuckoo

African fish eagle

African golden weaver

African green-pigeon

African grey flycatcher 

African grey hornbill

African hawk-eagle

African hoopoe

African paradise flycatcher 

African pied wagtail 

African wattled lapwing

African white-backed vulture

Arrow-marked babbler

Augur buzzard

Bare-faced go-away-bird

Bateleur eagle

Bearded woodpecker

Black stork

Black-bellied bustard 

Black-chested snake-eagle

Black-headed heron

Black-lored babbler

Black-shouldered kite

Black-winged stilt

Blacksmith plover

Blue-naped mousebird

Bronze mannikin 

Brown parrot

Brown snake-eagle 

Burchell’s starling

Cape wheatear

Cardinal woodpecker 

Cattle egret

Cinnamon-breasted rock bunting

Common buzzard

Common kestrel

Common ostrich

Common sandpiper oooobrm

Coqui francolin

Croaking cisticola

Crowned plover

Dark chanting-goshawk

Eagle owl

Eastern chanting-goshawk

Egyptian goose

European bee-eater

European roller

European swallow

Fischer’s lovebird

Flappet lark

Fork-tailed drongo

Goliath heron

Grassland pipit

Great spotted cuckoo

Greater blue-eared starling

Greater flamingo

Greater striped swallow

Green wood-hoopoe

Grey crowned crane

Grey heron

Grey kestrel

Grey-backed fiscal

Grey-breasted spurfowl

Grey-crested helmetshrike

Hadada ibis

Hammerkop 

Helmeted guineafowl

Hooded vulture

Klaas’s cuckoo

Kori bustard

Lappet-faced vulture

Lesser flamingo

Lesser kestrel

Lesser masked weaver

Lesser striped swallow

Lilac-breasted roller

Little bee-eater

Little green bee-eater

Long-crested eagle

Long-tailed cisticola

Magpie shrike

Marigold sunbird

Marsh eagle

Martial eagle

Montagu’s harrier

Mountain buzzard

Northern anteater chat

Northern wheatear

Northern white-crowned shrike

Pale spotted owlet

Pallid harrier

Pin-tailed whydah

Plain-backed pipit 

Purple grenadier

Pygmy falcon

Pygmy kingfisher 

Rattling cisticola 

Red-backed shrike

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu 

Red-fronted barbet

Red-headed weaver

Red-necked spurfowl

Red-rumped swallow

Red-winged starling

Ring-necked dove

Ruff

Rufous-naped lark

Rufous-tailed weaver

Ruppell’s griffon vulture

Ruppell’s long-tailed starling

Saddle-billed stork

Sand grouse

Scarlet-chested sunbird

Secretary bird

Senegal lapwing

Silverbird

Sooty falcon

Southern red bishop 

Speckle-fronted weaver

Speckled mousebird

Speckled pigeon

Spot-flanked barbet

Spotted thick-knee

Steppe eagle

Striped kingfisher

Sunbird

Superb starling

Swamp nightjar

Taita fiscal

Tawny eagle

Tawny-flanked prinia 

Temminck’s courser

Three-banded plover

Two-banded courser

Two-banded plover

Usambiro barbet

Variable sunbird

Verreaux’s (or black) eagle

Verreaux’s eagle-owl

Von Der Decken’s hornbill

Wattled starling

White stork

White-bellied bustard

White-bellied tit

White-browed coucal

White-browed robin-chat

White-browed scrub-robin

White-crowned shrike

White-headed buffalo weaver

White-headed saw-wing

White-headed vulture

White-winged widowbird

Wire-tailed swallow 

Woodland kingfisher 

Woolly-necked stork

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed stork

Yellow-fronted canary

Yellow-throated longclaw

Yellow-vented bulbul

Zitting cisticola